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My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Whitty for securing this debate and congratulate my noble friend on her maiden speech. I would like to lend my voice to this debate. This topic is broad and complex, so I feel that I can only touch upon one or two aspects of this matter, as time is limited today.
The subject of social housing is especially valued to me, as I am fortunate enough to be part of the independent commission put together by the charity Shelter to address the current public housing crisis in the UK. As part of the commission, we urge politicians not to remain idle at a time when half of young people are forced to live at home longer because of the shortage of affordable housing, as they have no chance of ever buying a house. The report also shows that private renters on low incomes spend an average of 67% of their earnings on rent. In our findings, the commission found that there can be a certain stigma attached to social housing. However, I believe that social housing can be seen as the key to a stronger community. In fact, many would say that social housing is essential in helping to rebuild society.
Moving forward, access to social housing is crucial for those in greatest need and should be a priority. Through various case studies, the commission also heard many circumstances where tenants, both private and social, are being continuously overlooked by landlords and legitimate grievances are being routinely ignored. Red tape and indifference mean that many tenants are waiting for unacceptable lengths of time before their cases are considered. Some tenants have talked about waiting up to eight months before their complaints can be looked at.
Surveys show that many private tenants who raise any issues regarding inadequate living conditions are then likely to be asked to move on by their landlord. Research by Citizens Advice found that 46% of private renters who made a complaint about the condition of their home, such as about damp or mould, were issued with an eviction notice within six months. Tenants are asking for complaints to be taken seriously. As such, part of the solution would be the formation of a tenants’ panel. It seems that there is a distinct lack of regulation in the housing sector, and reform is clearly vital. It is imperative that the Government should actively support the formation of a tenants’ panels to share good practice.
We cannot fail to see first-hand the dire situation of the homeless epidemic in this country. I am sure I am not the only person who passes the unfortunate individuals at the entrance to the corridors of power each morning. Sadly, I learned that a gentleman passed away in the underpass that leads to the Palace of Westminster just before Christmas.
Shelter’s report indicates that 277,000 people in England are homeless, with eviction from a private tenancy the most common cause. The report indicates that, without increased levels of social housing, this number is likely to increase. Ultimately, if more social housing is not delivered, it will have a devastating impact on people’s lives, above all the continuing tragedy of homelessness.
In conclusion, I know we will not solve the housing crisis overnight. In fact, our reports suggest that a 20-year programme is required to deliver the scale of social housing reform needed in the UK. However, once implemented, this reform would allow the benefits of social housing to be accessible far more widely, thus benefiting those in need. We would like to see the Government accept the report and reform launched earlier this month as a solid proposal for building a just society for all those who seek better living conditions for themselves and their families.